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A Chicago book that holds special meaning to me

Hannah Jennings


Once, when I was young and restless, I bought a magic train ticket that let me go anywhere I wanted for a whole month. I started in San Francisco, where my cousin, a student at Berkeley, gave me my first copy of the Rootabaga Stories. I read the book on the train. It begins as I was beginning, with a magic train ticket. I read myself to sleep, curled up on a train seat. I slept with the book under my head. It crept into my being.

I fell in love with the prose and the unreal, but so midwestern, stories.

Time passed on: I had a daughter. I don't know that I ever read her the whole book. I treated it like a bookshelf full of story books. Some stories we read over and over, others we dipped into just once.

Our favorite way to read it was on the front porch on a warm summer evening, with the cicada chorus playing in the background. Sometimes she sat in my skirt, using it to swing between my knees.

When the local library had an exhibit of “Literary Art” I made a Map of the Rootabaga Country. 

I deconstructed the map into an “advent calendar,” in which anything can happen.

And so much does.

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